Tag Archives: Kim Cusack

JAMES. JIM. PROF.

James Dapogny died yesterday.  He was 78 and had been keeping cancer at bay for nine years until he could do it no longer.

Because the absence of people I love is deeply painful, I have embraced the notion that the dead don’t go away, that their temporal selves leave us but they merely move into other neighborhoods.  With Jim’s death, I cannot keep that illusion afloat.  There is a void much larger than his human form that will never be filled.  No parade of clicked-on Facebook sad emojis can express this.  And this sorrow isn’t unique to me: ask anyone who knew him, who learned from him, who savored his creativity and his company.

Prof. and still-active cellist Mike Karoub to Prof’s left. Photograph by Laura Beth Wyman, 2014.

An expansive, restlessly diligent and curious person, he had several names.  When I first met him (at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2004) I timidly called him “Mr. Dapogny,” and because I was shy, my voice was low and he referred to me — just once — as “soft-voiced Professor Steinman” while we were both leafing through Thirties sheet music.  Later, I bought all his records and CDs, where he was “James,” but I summoned up the courage to call him “Jim” to his face and — referring to him in the third person, I took on the affectionate coinage that Laura Beth Wyman, whom he called “my best student in thirty years,” and his dear friend, had created: “Prof.”

I will hand off to Prof.’s friend Kim Cusack for his memories:

Jim was puckish, never morose, so my first musical example is a jam-session rouser.  Keep your ears on the pianist, who explodes into a solo at 4:14:

Although he was characterized as a stride pianist and he loved the music of Fats Waller and Alex Hill, he dismissed that categorization, and told me that his mentors were Stacy, Sullivan, and Morton.  In the fashion of those three great individualists, his playing was full of spiky surprises — arresting commentaries that could woo and distract in the ensemble or when he accompanied a soloist.  I think he found stride conventions constricting, possibly monotonous, so I hear him as a Pee Wee Russell of the piano: going his own completely recognizable ways while uplifting all around him, creating bright-sounding treble lines but also providing solidly original harmonic support and rhythmic propulsion.  He was never predictable but always heroically satisfying.

But LADY BE GOOD, because it was impromptu (rain and wind made reading charts impossible) was not what Prof. liked best.  He delighted in “paper,” that is, arrangements — but they were charts with plenty of breathing room for the splendid soloists he hired and nurtured.  Here’s his powerfully blue version of the Ellington-Stewart MOBILE BAY, also from Evergreen 2014:

and another 2014 romper — this time, because the weather was better, the band could use Prof.’s charts:

Here is Prof. and a band in 2012 — note his dry whimsical introduction:

and a piano solo on one of the most familiar jazz ballads, uniquely Dapogny:

Jim (I have shifted to the non-academic because it feels warmer) was also terribly funny, in person and in print.  David Sager says he had “a sly and delicious wit,” which all of us experienced.  He was a wordsmith, a jester, a stand-up comedian, a sharp-edged deflater, a Michigan S.J. Perelman.  A deadpan improvising comedian, he didn’t mug and pander on the stand, preferring to let the heartfelt music speak.

He and I exchanged emails from 2011 to October 2018: a coda from one of his:

P.S. I don’t know if you ever read the columns of humorist Dave Barry, but I did because Wayne Jones used to send me bundles of them. The ones I liked best were those entitled “Ask Mr. Language Person,” in which Barry answered usage questions ostensibly sent in by readers. One asked about rules for the use of quotation marks in small-business signs. Barry answered that quotation marks
were to be used on words chosen at random. Then he gave three examples.
Try Our “Pies”
Try “Our” Pies
“Try” Our Pies
To me this is absolutely hilarious. It still makes me laugh.

My relationship with Jim grew and deepened.  When I first met him, I was intimidated by his comic rapier, and when I got to know him a little better, I asked him to put it down, which he did without fuss.  The more I encountered him, the more I admired him.  And finally I — like everyone else who knew him — loved him.

I took him on as one of my not-so-secret spiritual fathers, even though he was only a dozen years my senior.  The blend of humor and toughness (he could have shown up in a 1935 Warner Brothers picture, although not as the gangster lead) reminded me of my own father, so he was dear to me.  I originally wrote, “I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much with my direct affection,” but on second thought I hope I did embarrass him: that way I would know he had received the message I was sending.

He was extremely kind, superbly generous.  I had asked him to write a letter for me in support of a sabbatical I was hoping for, and I dare not read that letter now because I would not be able to write through tears.  And every so often he would praise something I’d written, which would make me feel like a peculiarly graceful colossus of words and insights.  (Of course, now and again, he corrected my wayward grammar, which made me wince and then rush to fix the lapse.)

Although he knew his own worth, he was infuriatingly modest.  I, and then Laura, shot videos of him in performance at Jazz at Chautauqua, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  The last email response I got from Jim — late October 2018 — concerned a trio video I had sent him to see if  he would agree to my posting it.  (Sometimes when I sent him videos, the answer was silence, which I could never tell whether it was “God, no!” or “I am too busy doing other things more important than considering my own performances.)  His response, the names redacted in true CIA fashion, was, “OK with me, but this doesn’t scream out for preservation except by being documentation that I once weaseled my way into the company of H- and R-.”

He was always busy transcribing charts for PORK, researching new old music, and more.  But I think his secret passion was in what we call, for want of a more gracious term, mentoring.  Ask any musician who played or sang with him: Jon-Erik Kellso to Dawn Giblin to Mike Karoub to Erin Morris to the members of his bands.  Like Ellington, he saw very clearly what strengths we had, and worked tirelessly to bolster us — offering the most gentle helping hand to make people more glorious versions of their natural selves.

One of my great pleasures, was my being able to visit him and Laura and Erin for a few days in 2016.  Yes, Jim was a scholar of all things musical — not just Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson’s operas — and his range was broad.  When I visited Ann Arbor, the plan was that I would stay in a quietly nondescript motel, and work on my blog over breakfast (instant oatmeal from paper envelopes, and coffee) and then Jim and I, sometimes Laura along as well, would eat deliriously good ethnic food in some restaurant that only Jim knew — Indian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese — and the conversation would become expertly culinary as well, because he could cook, away from the piano.  He was truly insightful but ready to applaud others’ insights.

I dreamed of visiting him again, but missed my chance, just as I missed the opportunity to help bring Jim’s band once again to the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado.

It would please me immensely if others who knew Prof., or James, or Jim, would add their voices to this post.  I will close with one of the great beautiful moments captured by video.  I am particularly proud of this 2015 performance because of the lovely music and that it was recorded by my friend Laura Beth Wyman.  Jim’s own FIREFLY:

The moral that James Dapogny’s life and art and generous friendship offers us is very simple.  We are fireflies.  At our best, we are brilliant: we trace paths along the summer night sky.  But we are fragile.  What can we do but live our lives so that when we depart, we are irrevocably missed?  As he is.

I will eschew my usual closing — consider it here but unsaid — to send love and sorrow to Jim’s wife, Gail, to his family, to his friends, to all the people he touched.

Adieu, James.  Farewell, Prof.  We love you, Jim.

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ROLLING ALONG: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Part Two): BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

Just pure pleasure.  An expert gentle band at a friendly festival.  If you need program notes, they are Bob Schulz, cornet and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums and vocal. This set took place on February 8, 2019, at the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras.”

 

Here is the first part of this set — five easygoing swing performances.

And a thought.  Some audiences, and who am I to criticize them, need their jazz to be in broad strokes and bright colors.  They aren’t happy unless the band is Fast and Loud, as if they wanted their plate of fries with enough salt on them so that they resembled a winter scene.  Although Louis and Sidney Catlett and Bechet are deities to me, I prefer intriguing explorations in the middle register, in medium tempo, at a volume where listeners have to pay attention or they might miss something beautiful.  Traditional jazz doesn’t have to model itself on the 1812 Overture, or at least not all the time.

Bob and his colleagues understand this, and, better yet, they live it in every note.  So here are three more lovely performances from lovely Fresno.  Thanks to the players and the organizers and the friends of the music.

First, Bob plans a journey South and wonders about sleeping arrangements:

Ray bursts forth in romantic happiness, thanks to Alex Hill and Mr. Waller:

And a romping performance of the wearying classic to end the set:

There’s more to come.  I followed this band around devotedly, and you can understand why.

May your happiness increase!

EASYGOING SWING: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND: BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

I see by my YouTube archives that I first heard / saw / videoed this band in 2012, and they still sound wonderful, seven years later.  Unlike more aggressive combinations, Bob‘s group is distinguished by consistent lyricism, and even more a refusal to hurry.  This band, although never dull, hurts no one’s ears; no chandeliers are set a-swaying; the Weather Channel never notes their presence as a threat.  Rather, they beautifully pursue the Golden Mean: swinging medium tempos, nicely modulated volume, and a decided lack of Special Effects.  And what results is lovely wise jazz: see their recorded legacy to date here.  Although the personnel of the Frisco Jazz Band has varied over the years, this edition was and is special: Bob, cornet and vocal; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Ray Templin, drums and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba.

Here are five performances from the first set I caught: please relax and admire this group’s special relaxed glide.  And, without meaning to slight the rest of the band, I picked a vantage point that would bring me closer to Messrs. Skjelbred and Cusack, two heroes with delightful idiosyncracies that always catch the ear, sometimes unaware, but always with pleasure.  But those in the know will find pleasures in every performance, from each musician.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with the verse!):

Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF, which always makes me recall Kenny Davern and friends, at a tempo I would call Stomping Lament:

Bob breaks out his tin-can mute to lend GEORGIA BO BO a certain needed grittiness, much appreciated:

Scott’s tender idiomatic treatment of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA — pay close attention to Skjelbred’s musing interlude, a spiritual meal in itself:

Henri Woode’s ROSETTA (the proper sources concur on this credit):

There are many more equally gratifying videos to come from this group’s stint at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras”: one of several excellent reasons to be there.  (Hint: make plans for 2020.)

May your happiness increase!

ON THE ROAD TO FRESNO (February 7-10, 2019): DAVE STUCKEY AND THE HOT HOUSE GANG

 

 

 

Tomorrow I’m on my way to Fresno — thanks to Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines.  Why?  Well, for Bob Schulz, Kim Cusack, Clint Baker, Marc Caparone, Jeff Hamilton, Carl Sonny Leyland . . . and Dave Stuckey and his Hot House Gang.  Here they are in a November 2016 Saturday-night dance gig at the San Diego Jazz Fest, with Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, Nate Ketner, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, Gareth Price:

I hope to see you there.  But if I just smile and wave from behind my camera, don’t be offended: I will be too busy with good music.  Incidentally, I believe that the Hot House Gang at Fresno will be Marc Caparone, Nate Ketner, David Aus, and Sam Rocha — among others.  (All schedules subject to change.)  The point is that any ensemble with Dave Stuckey in it or in front of it can’t help but swing.  Had he been a few decades older, Jack Kapp and Eli Oberstein would have fought to sign him to record contracts, and he would have appeared in B pictures . . . . and he’d be legendary.  He is now.

May your happiness increase!

GRAB YOUR HIGHLIGHTERS: THE BAND SCHEDULE FOR FRESNO “SOUNDS OF MARDI GRAS” 2019 IS HERE (with some delightful MUSICAL EVIDENCE)

I’ve already posted this cheering bouquet of balloons, and I’m making my first trip to Fresno for “the sounds of Mardi Gras” early next month.  And not simply in hope of finding balloons.

Now, we can all get down to the delightful business of planning what to see and hear.  I’m sure there are people who simply amble through a festival, guided by the sounds they hear coming from one room or another.  But I’m a man with a mission: I know the bands I particularly want to hear and video . . . so I have to plan.  If I go to see X and her Jelly Whippers at 6, then I can’t (as Sir Isaac Newton reminds me) hear Y and her Joy Boys at the same time.  So either in the solace of my apartment or perhaps on the airplane, I bring out the highlighters so that I can plot and plan . . .
NEWS FLASH: as of January 25, some last-minute changes – – – –
On Friday, in Salon C/D, the morning – afternoon sequence is now Young Bucs / Yosemite / Climax / Tom Hook / High Sierra.  The evening sequence in C/D is now Bob Schulz, Dave Stuckey, and the rest unchanged.    As far as  my nearsighted eyes can tell, those are the only changes.  But the sole way to be sure you have the right schedule is to go to the Sounds of Mardi Gras and pick up the current paperwork.
I believe that an even larger version — spread it out on the floor so the whole family can play — can be found  here.  Since this is my maiden voyage to this festival, I haven’t any videos of my own to share.  But my colleagues have filled that need for years — one of them being the faithful Bill Schneider, who captured Bob Schulz’s band playing a lyrical YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY at the 2018 festival — with lovely work from Bob, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Doug Finke, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin:

and a very hot MONA LISA from a 2010 performance by the New El Dorado Jazz Band co-led by Hal Smith and Clint Baker, with Marc Caparone, Howard Miyata, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, and Georgia Korba.  Not everyone in this band will be at the 2019 festival, but their music is preserved for us thanks to RaeAnn Berry:

I look forward to the 2019 banquet of good sounds.  For details, visit the festival’s website and their Facebook page.  But don’t take so long looking for the right color highlighter that this hot weekend passes you by.

May your happiness increase!

I HAVE A NEW DESTINATION FOR FEBRUARY 7-10, 2019. CARE TO JOIN ME?

Here’s the first clue: 

and the second:

Although February is brief on the calendar, it can be a long month for those of us, in New York and elsewhere, waiting for a thaw.  I have a cure I’ll be trying out in 2019 — the Fresno Sounds of Mardi Gras — which takes place from February 7-10 in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Fresno, California.  Rumors that I have fallen in with some strange linguistic cult (Pismo, CA, in October 2018, and now another place ending in a vowel) just aren’t true, and the people spreading such gossip should stop.  No, the reasons I’ll be there are musical (and the opportunity to meet some California hot-jazz pals).  Here’s a sample, in a video by Bill Schneider from 2018:

Bob told me that the band he’s bringing in 2019 has got the same personnel: himself, Doug Finke, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin.

and there’s Grand Dominion, featuring Clint Baker, Gerry Green, Jeff Hamilton, and other spreaders of the gospel (video by Franklin Clay):

and Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang.  Since they are new to Fresno, I can’t draw on the Mardi Gras video trove but bring forward this delightfully raucous one, shot at the Saturday-night swing dance in 2016 at the San Diego Jazz Fest, featuring Dan Barrett, Nate Ketner, Corey Gemme, and other rascals:

Dave tells me that the Fresno Hot House Gang will have Marc Caparone, who’s also appearing with High Sierra on one of that venerable band’s last gigs, Nate Ketner, Sam Rocha, and David Aus on piano.

Here is the Facebook page for the 2019 blast.  And here is the complete band listing (I believe) for 2019 . . . click http://www.fresnodixie.com/badges-online for details about badges, pins, sponsorships, and other nifty artifacts.

I’ll be leaving my snow shovel behind for a weekend in early February, and I won’t miss it.  Even if there’s no snow where you are, the hot music is better than any pharmaceutical I know.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES IN CHICAGO (The Final Part): KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM (2018)

My friend Charles keeps on providing surprises from his Spring trip to Chicago, where he captured Kim Cusack and Andy Schumm on video at the Honky Tonk, although he assures me that this is The End of his Secret Stash.

Dear Michael,

I dug down into the video archives (where the videos sleep on the computer) and found six more little gems to share with you and your blog-audience.  These performances are a little more noisy — people gnawing on ribs and suchlike — but Kim and Andy come through beautifully.  I’ll be in New York at the start of October, and we shall meet . . . .

Your pal,

Charles

On the Mildred Bailey radio show, circa 1944-45, she refers to her selected jazz group (Teddy Wilson, Al Hall, Red Norvo, others) as her HOT HALF-DOZEN.  Here is the 2018 version of that collective noun:

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

JAPANESE SANDMAN:

TROUBLE IN MIND:

MELANCHOLY BABY:

INDIANA:

And since the Cornucopia According to Charles is now well and truly emptied, it’s up to you to get out and hear Kim and Andy — as a duo, or in other permutations — on your own.  No slacking, now.

May your happiness increase!